A bulk-billing telehealth psychology practice for people living in rural and remote Australia has just been launched.
As Dr Hannah Rose, FRACGP describes:
“For the first time, rural and remote Australians will have consistent, convenient and equitable access to bulk-billed psychological services. The telehealth program will greatly assist in treating high prevalence disorders such as depression and anxiety as well as providing opportunities for treating a large range of mental health issues”.
Access to psychological services will be available via smart phone, tablet or computer.
Since the Better Access Telehealth Medicare Item numbers were ‘re-vamped’ in September 2018 there is no requirement for appointments to be face-to face to access bulk billing services. Consequently, it is no longer necessary for patients to drive long distances for these appointments.
Research findings indicate that the benefits from telehealth’s convenience and accessibility mitigate the fact that psychological sessions are not face-to-face. Studies have demonstrated that there are no discernable differences in treatment outcomes.
“This initiative has been years in the making”, reflects Hannah.
“It was conceived and developed by my colleague, Nicole Hayes, clinical psychologist, whom I met when I was working as an Area Coordinator of GP Mental Health Shared Care”.
Nicole recounts the long journey to establishing Emerge Psychology, inspired by her work in drought-affected areas in rural and remote New South Wales.
“I look at my 16-year-old son and can see how long I have been working on this”, says Nicole.
“He was a tiny baby… and I will never forget the desolation of seeing only dust where grass used to be. I would drive long distances on rough roads to see my patients, and I would think that there must be a better way of doing this. While it was heartening to see the kindness and resilience of rural neighbours and communities, I could also see the great need for specific psychological assistance.
“While living and working in remote New South Wales I had several complex referrals and realised there was a need for more professional support.”
Consequently Nicole became involved as Senior Clinical Advisor within the Australian Psychological Society. This role included work in rural suicide prevention, clinician self-care and bushfire recovery. Nicole was also involved in a pilot program in delivering cognitive behavioural therapy by telephone.
Emerge Psychology will provide up to ten bulk-billed telehealth psychology sessions per calendar year with GP referrals. The average waiting time for consultations is seven days.
There is a carefully selected team of psychologists and clinical psychologists nationwide, each with their own special interests and areas of expertise. In addition to being easily accessible, the range of available psychologists enables matching clinicians to individual patients’ needs.
When a GP provides the patient with a referral, the patient can book online and link to their sessions through the Emerge Psychology website. There is assistance available for GPs, by telephone or video link if they have questions about the referral process, or the service in general.
Sessions can take place wherever the patient has internet connection, with state-of-the-art security encryption that meets privacy standards.
Nicole hopes that the establishment of Emerge Psychology will encourage other psychologists to join the telehealth initiative. Her vision is for the continual growth and development of easily accessible psychological services, benefiting our rural and remote Australians.
Need to talk to someone? If you need immediate assistance, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression, contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
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